Once again, as the new year starts, so do the hopes for several filmmakers and talent who want to have their films picked up for distribution at the upcoming 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival hosts screenings in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain Resort, from January 24 – February 3, 2019.
In 2018, we had a number of films that featured huge ensembles from Sorry To Bother You, Blindspotting, Monsters and Men, and A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. A majority of these films received distribution and hit theaters last year. We also had a number of films that Black females in leading roles. Coming out of the festival last year were two documentaries that were recently Oscar nominated – Minding The Gap and Hale County This Evening, This Morning, whose director RaMell Ross is back at the festival with a new film, Easter Snap.
For 2019, there are a selection of films that are directed by Black females, something that has been lacking at the festival for years. Chinonye Chukwu has Clemency starring Alfre Woodard, Tayarisha Poe with Selah and the Spades, and Crystal Kayiza directed Edgecombe.
Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor will be making his directorial debut with The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind while his 12 Year a Slave co-star and Oscar winner will also be at the festival with the horror film Little Monsters. Oscar winner and recent Oscar nominee Jordan Peele will return to the festival as the executive producer to Lorena, the documentary on Lorena Bobbitt. She became a household name in 1993 when she cut off her husband’s penis to stop his abuse.
Opening up the festival will be A24’s adaptation of Richard Wright‘s acclaimed novel, ‘Native Son,’ with Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders taking on the iconic role of Bigger Thomas. Rashid Johnson will direct the film from a screenplay written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.
The film, which will take place in the present day in Johnson’s hometown of Chicago. and Margaret Qualley (Novitiate, The Nice Guys), Nick Robinson (Love, Simon, Jurassic World), KiKi Layne (Barry Jenkins’ upcoming If Beale Street Could Talk) and Bill Camp (The Night Of) are also set. Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Straight Outta Compton) will be the director of photography.
Also among the films being shown are docs about Toni Morrison and Miles Davis.
Congrats to those films that will be playing this year and hopefully, the rest of the world, will get a chance to see them, should it be picked up for theatrical release.
Here’s are some of the films that will be playing at the festival this year that are either directed or features Black talent.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Always in Season / U.S.A. (Director: Jacqueline Olive, Producers: Jacqueline Olive, Jessica Devaney) — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present. World Premiere
Bedlam / U.S.A. (Director: Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, Producers: Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, Peter Miller) — A psychiatrist makes rounds in ERs, jails, and homeless camps to tell the intimate stories behind one of the greatest social crises of our time. A personal and intense journey into the world of the seriously mentally ill. World Premiere
Knock Down the House / U.S.A. (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sarah Olson, Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears) — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. World Premiere
Pahokee / U.S.A. (Directors: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Producers: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Maida Lynn) — In a small agricultural town in the Florida Everglades, hopes for the future are concentrated on the youth. Four teens face heartbreak and celebrate in the rituals of an extraordinary senior year. World Premiere
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Clemency / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu, Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov) — Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks. World Premiere
The Last Black Man in San Francisco / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Producers: Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh) — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover. World Premiere
Luce / U.S.A. (Director: Julius Onah, Screenwriters: JC Lee, Julius Onah, Producers: John Baker, Julius Onah, Andrew Yang) — A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student. Cast: Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz. World Premiere
Native Son / U.S.A. (Director: Rashid Johnson, Screenwriter: Suzan-Lori Parks, Producers: Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman) — In this modern reimagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever. Cast: Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, Sanaa Lathan. World Premiere. DAY ONE
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Stanley Nelson, Producers: Nicole London, Stanley Nelson) — A visionary, innovator, and originator who defied categorization and embodied the word cool: a foray into the life and career of musical and cultural icon Miles Davis. World Premiere
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am / U.S.A. (Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Producers: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Johanna Giebelhaus, Chad Thompson, Tommy Walker) — This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and the human condition. World Premiere
It’s Not About Jimmy Keene / U.S.A. (Creator: Caleb Jaffe, Executive Producers: Jim Frohna, Diana Kunce) Dad’s home from heart surgery, Mom’s still in shock. Adult sisters at each other’s throats again, hurt and rage masked by their politics … the stalking hallucination of a murdered biracial teen’s body … race, identity, confusion … Thursday with Ivan’s family. Cast: Caleb Jaffe, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Maiden, Okwui Okpokwasili, Ayana Peters, David Warshofsky. World Premiere
Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men / U.S.A. (Director: Sacha Jenkins, Executive Producers: Peter J. Scalettar, Peter Bittenbender, Chris Gary) The cultural history of Wu-Tang Clan—artists who escape the poverty, violence, and oppression of their neighborhoods through music. They encounter wild success and heartbreak along the way to becoming the most recognized musical movement in the world—all while walking the tightrope that links business with brotherhood. Cast: All members of the Wu-Tang Clan . World Premiere
Give Me Liberty / U.S.A. (Director: Kirill Mikhanovsky, Screenwriters: Alice Austen, Kirill Mikhanovsky, Producers: Alice Austen, George Rush, Walter S. Hall, Michael Manasseri, Sergey Shtern, Val Abel) — When a riot breaks out in Milwaukee, America’s most segregated city, medical transport driver Vic is torn between his promise to get a group of elderly Russians to a funeral and his desire to help Tracy, a young black woman with ALS. Cast: Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, Chris Galust, Maksim Stoyanov, Darya Ekamasova. World Premiere
Premature / U.S.A. (Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Screenwriters: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard, Producers: Joy Ganes, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Darren Dean) — The summer before she leaves for college, Ayanna meets handsome and mysterious outsider Isaiah; her entire world is turned upside down as she navigates the demanding terrain of young love against a changing Harlem landscape. Cast: Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Michelle Wilson, Alexis Marie Wint, Imani Lewis, Tashiana Washington. World Premiere
Selah and the Spades / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Tayarisha Poe, Producers: Lauren McBride, Lucas Joaquin, Drew Houpt, Tayarisha Poe, Jill Ahrens) — Five factions run the underground life of the prestigious Haldwell boarding school. At the head of the most powerful faction – The Spades – sits Selah Summers. By turns charming and callous, she chooses whom to keep close and whom to cut loose, walking the fine line between being feared and loved. Cast: Lovie Simone, Celeste O’Connor, Jharrel Jerome, Gina Torres, Jesse Williams. World Premiere
The Wolf Hour / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Alistair Banks Griffin, Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Bailey Conway Anglewicz, Bradley Pilz) — Once a known counterculture figure, June E. Leigh now lives in self-imposed exile in her South Bronx apartment during the incendiary ’77 Summer of Sam. When an unseen tormentor begins exploiting June’s weaknesses, her insular universe begins to unravel. Cast: Naomi Watts, Emory Cohen, Jennifer Ehle, Kelvin Harrison Jr. World Premiere
Corporate Animals / U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain, Producers: Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder, Mike Falbo, Ed Helms) Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team-building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. Cast: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni. World Premiere
Little Monsters / Australia (Director and screenwriter: Abe Forsythe, Producers: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder) — A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies. Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad. World Premiere
Sweetheart / U.S.A. (Director: JD Dillard, Screenwriters: JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Producers: Jason Blum, JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Bill Karesh) — Jenn has washed ashore a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night. Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford. World Premiere
Mope / U.S.A. (Director: Lucas Heyne, Screenwriters: Lucas Heyne, Zack Newkirk, Producers: Kelly Hayes, Brian Cooper, Kern Saxton, Danny Roth) — Two ‘mopes’ – the lowest-level male performers in the porn industry – set their sights on an impossible dream: stardom. Cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kelly Sry, Brian Huskey, Max Adler, David Arquette, Tonya Cornelisse. World Premiere
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The Last Tree / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Shola Amoo, Producers: Lee Thomas, Myf Hopkins) — Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take. Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black,Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock. World Premiere
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan) — Against all the odds, a thirteen year old boy in Malawi invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine. Based on the true story of William Kamkwamba. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Noma Dumezweni, Aissa Maiga, Joseph Marcell. World Premiere
Relive / U.S.A. (Director: Jacob Estes, Screenwriters: Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt, Producers: Jason Blum, Bobby Cohen, David Oyelowo) — After a man’s family dies in what appears to be a murder, he gets a phone call from one of the dead, his niece. He’s not sure if she’s a ghost or if he’s going mad — but as it turns out, he’s not. Instead, her calls help him rewrite history. Cast: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry. World Premiere
Troop Zero / U.S.A. (Director: Bert & Bertie, Screenwriter: Lucy Alibar, Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis) — In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a national competition offers her a chance at her dream, to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond. Cast: Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, Allison Janney. World Premiere
This Is Personal (formerly Til Everybody’s Free) / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Berg, Producers: Paul McGuire, Ruchi Mital, Joy Gorman Wettels, Rebecca Walker) While the 2016 election catalyzed the Women’s March and a new era of feminist activism, Tamika Mallory and Erika Andiola have been fighting for their communities for decades. Their stories expose the fundamental connection between personal and political and raise the question: what’s intersectionality, and can it save the world?. World Premiere
U.S. NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS
America / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Garrett Bradley) — A cinematic omnibus rooted in New Orleans, challenging the idea of black cinema as a “wave” or “movement in time,” proposing instead, a continuous thread of achievement. World Premiere
As Told To G/D Thyself / U.S.A. (Directors: Bradford Young, Terence Nance, Jenn Nkiru, Screenwriters: Terence Nance, Kamasi Washington, Bradford Young) — The cosmic journey of sacred youth, during which pain, pleasure and sublimation are non-negotiable. World Premiere
Feathers / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell) — Elizier, an emotionally-dejected new enrollee at The Edward R. Mill School for Boys, must overcome memories of a tragic past and present hazing by his peers in order to tackle larger issues dominating his young life. DAY ONE
I Snuck Off the Slave Ship / U.S.A. (Directors: Lonnie Holley, Cyrus Moussavi, Screenwriters: Lonnie Holley, Cyrus Moussavi, Brittany Nugent, Matt Arnett) — Lonnie Holley, a “self-taught African American artist” and dimensional traveler, attempts to sneak off the slave ship America. World Premiere
Suicide By Sunlight / U.S.A. (Director: Nikyatu Jusu, Screenwriters: Nikyatu Jusu, R. Shanea Williams) — Valentina, a day-walking Black vampire protected from the sun by her melanin, is forced to restrain her bloodlust to regain custody of her estranged daughters. World Premiere
DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
Black 14 / U.S.A. (Director: Darius Clark Monroe) — An archival social study examining white pathology and cognitive dissonance via media coverage of a 1969 racial protest at the University of Wyoming.
Easter Snap / U.S.A. (Director: RaMell Ross) — With a baited handling of American symbolism, an examination of five Alabama men, who resurrect the homestead ritual of hog processing in the deep South under the guidance of Johnny Blackmon. World Premiere
Edgecombe / U.S.A. (Director: Crystal Kayiza) — Through the deeply personal truths of three local residents, an examination of the ways trauma repeats and reinvents itself in rural Black communities.
STAY CLOSE / U.S.A., China (Directors and screenwriters: Shuhan Fan, Luther Clement) — The underdog story of a fencer from Brooklyn who overcomes a gauntlet of hardships on the road to the Olympics. World Premiere
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
OCTANE / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeron Braxton) — A man’s street race through hell and back parallels the Black experience in America.
New Frontier exhibition
TRAVELING WHILE BLACK, directed by Academy Award Winner Roger Ross Williams has been selected to premiere a new virtual reality experience and exhibition—at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier exhibition.
Traveling While Black, directed by Academy Award® Winner Roger Ross Williams in collaboration with Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël and co-directed by Ayesha Nadarajah, is a 20-minute 3D, 360-degree virtual reality documentary that immerses the viewer in the long history of restricted movement for black Americans and the creation of safe spaces in our communities. At the Sundance Festival, visitors enter a re-creation of a historic « safe space »- Ben’s Chili Bowl and through the VR experience the world of Ben’s Chili Bowl and the stories of black travelers who sought refuge during segregation.